When you go camping or hiking, an adequate supply of food and water is likely the main priority that you prepare for first. But what happens if you find yourself in the wilderness for longer than you expected? While you may be familiar enough with the local flora and fauna to obtain a safe, continuous food supply, do you know how to collect potable water if you are not near a clean stream or river?
Luckily, trees can be an apt source of water if you have the right tools with you on hand. There are two main ways to collect water from trees – either by tapping the trunk of the tree or trapping and collecting condensation from the leaves. By learning these methods, you can be confident that you will never find yourself in a situation where the search for clean water is dire.
How Do You Tap a Tree for Water?
You’ve probably seen a video before of people tapping maple trees with a spile to obtain the sap needed for maple syrup, but did you know you can also get water from a tree with a spile?
To tap a tree, you need to create a hole in the trunk of the tree so that the sap of the tree can flow forth. The sap of many trees is rich in clean, potable water. An electric drill is the easiest way to create a hole in a tree trunk. It is best to drill the hole at an angle that would help facilitate the downward flow of sap from the tree. Then, you will need to tap the spile gently into the tree. Do not hit the spile too hard, as it could split the bark, and you will have to try the process again on a different tree. If there is sap in the tree available, it will flow immediately. You can either drink the sap directly from the spile or let it run into a water bottle or canteen to collect for later drinking.
If you went camping or hiking with the intent to tap trees for water, you likely prepared and brought a spile with you, as well as a drill and the appropriately sized bit for your spile. However, these are not necessarily commonly packed tools to bring along on a camping trip. If you did not prepare to tap a tree for water during your outdoor adventure, is there still a way to do so without a spile on hand? Fortunately, yes! All you really need to tap a tree for water is a sharp knife.
You will need to grab a moderately sized stick from your tree of choice. This stick will become your makeshift spile. It needs to be large enough that you can carve out the middle but small enough that you can create a hole in the tree trunk in which the stick will fit. Using your knife, scrape the bark from the stick, split it in half, and create a gorge down the middle of it through which the sap of the tree can flow. Next, use your knife to scrape some of the bark from the tree and puncture a hole in the trunk. Then you will use your stick as you would a spile, inserting it into the side of the tree and either drinking the sap straight from it or collecting the sap in whatever container you have on hand.
Can You Tap Any Tree?
The two best types of trees to obtain water from are Maple and Birch trees. If you find yourself in a region with no maple or birch trees around, walnut, hickory, and box elder trees are also acceptable options to tap for water. Using the Native Plant Finder tool online or a local field guide is a great way to prepare for any hiking trip, as you can familiarize yourself with the non-toxic plants in your area that could potentially be of use to you. The best season to tap trees for water is the spring, during which the nights reach a temperature below freezing point and the temperature during the day rises above freezing point.
How to Collect Water From a Tree Branch?
Instead of using a spile, you can also collect water from the branch of a tree using a process called evapotranspiration. The only materials you need for this technique are some sort of plastic bag (think of a plastic sandwich bag, a littered grocery bag, or even a poncho!) and something to tie the bag with, such as a string or rubber band.
The process is simple. First, choose a branch of a tree, or any non-poisonous plant, that has a good amount of leaves on the end. Next, wrap your plastic bag around the end of the branch so that the leaves are contained in the bag. After some time, water will condense inside the bag. You will need to tie the bag securely with a string or rubber band around the tree branch so that any condensation that forms does not evaporate but is instead trapped inside the bag. The hotter it is outside, the better this process will work.
This method does not produce as much water as tapping a tree with a spile, so it is best to set up multiple bags at once if you are using this method as your primary source to collect water.
When In Doubt, Use Trees as a Safe Water Source!
It’s only instinct to feel panicked if you run out of water in the wilderness. But it’s important to stay calm and know that you have options. Recognizing the signs of dehydration is crucial in staying safe on any hike or camping trip. Never resort to drinking from a puddle or questionable water source, as it may be teeming with bacteria and parasites. Now that you know how to collect safe drinking water from the trees around you, you never need to feel unsure again of what may happen if your supply runs out!